The Brief Anatomy of a Mistake
It seems to be human nature to be dismayed at having made mistakes. Botching a capture in a fleeting moment is a missed opportunity, and certainly we are right to be a little mad at ourselves for not being properly prepared. Ruining a print because you set up a file incorrectly is costly, but curable.
While it may be disappointing not to make the perfect image, no one ever learned a thing by being perfect. The reality is: every mistake is an opportunity...an opportunity to learn and to enhance your skills. In fact, it could almost be argued that if you don’t make mistakes, you’ll never learn, expand your horizons, and improve.
All mistakes aren't good (for example, dropping your digital camera in the ocean while out at sea), but all come with a lesson. There are mistakes you will be able to learn more and less from. There are times when the risk of mistakes will ‘cost’ more. The best mistakes are those that come with the least dreadful impact.
Looked at in the right way, the opportunity created by making a mistake is potential for learning and the true joy of pure accomplishment.
What to Do When You Make a Mistake
When you make a mistake -- whatever it is -- it isn't time to sit back and lament; it is time to sit up and take notice. It may also be a moment to congratulate yourself for trying new things and not being afraid of confronting what you don't already know.
When a mistake happens:
- Acknowledge that something went wrong, and don’t assume it is a reflection on you (or anyone around you).
- Study the consequences and understand why things went wrong.
- Plan a counter action or means of avoiding the same mistake in the future.
The first is both the easiest and hardest of these steps. People like to blame themselves or someone else and distract from the sense that something merely happened. Forgo the blame as there’s nothing positive there. The next two steps are where it counts. Look at the event and what went wrong, research or ask questions about the things you don’t understand, and make a plan for avoiding the same thing happening again. You can write down your answers, and keep a notebook to keep track if it helps. All you want to do is plan to avoid making that same mistake again. The plans can be trivial or complex.
Often you’ll be tempted to lean on the advice of others that they gained from experience, and that can be a good thing by helping you avoid making terrible blunders. As long as you digest the suggestions and lessons it helps; it helps less so if you take anyone’s word for granted. Practice what you read in tutorials, lessons and books before you assume you really understand it. And when you practice allow yourself to explore at the fringes where things might just go wrong and that’s where you’ll learn.
Mistakes can come in shooting, in choosing a lens, in working with or against the light, in shooting too few frames, choosing the wrong exposure. You'll see them in bad choices for tools you use in Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements). Don’t be afraid of making the mistakes, of posting them to your gallery, of showing them to people who might help let you know what went wrong or offer opinions. That is research. Opinions will vary as will solutions, and your preferences and techniques for avoiding the mistakes will expand as your experience grows. As your list of mistakes grows it is something you can wear like a scarf or badge of courage and show off in the experience you've gained. Mistakes accumulate with hard work, and experience. You make more of them as you challenge yourself with new styles, ideas and techniques. The more of them you make, the better they will make your images.
If your goal is to be a better photographer, don’t make mistakes, revel in them.